Revamping Writing for a Digital Age

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Welcome to my mini-course!

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Overview and Purpose

The Next Generation Standards for English Language Arts emphasize three genres of writing students should engage with every year: narrative, information, and argument. They state students will write for multiple purposes (to entertain, to explain, to persuade) and learn about various print and digital tools to produce and share writing. In addition, they suggest students should continue to learn about how technology and digital tools for writing can increase learning and communication.

While print literacy is not becoming obsolete, it is certainly changing as a result of a rapidly evolving digital world. As middle and high school-level teachers of writing, it’s time to “upgrade” our instruction to incorporate new ways of writing in digital environments. In this course, you will learn how to transform your current narrative, information, and argument writing assignments into more relevant and dynamic projects for 21st century learners. We will explore:

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  • Elements of visual design in digital texts
  • New media and hybrid forms of writing for the web
  • How multimedia (image, audio, video) is changing how we read and write
  • The dialogic and interactive nature of digital text creation
  • Potential for amplifying youth voices through social media

Needs Assessment

In Crafting Digital Writing, Troy Hicks writes, “The question is no longer whether we should use technology to teach writing; instead we must focus on the many ways we must use technology to teach writing” (p. 2). In our ever-changing digital world, and with the current emphasis on virtual learning in K-12 education, teachers of writing are faced with new decisions and responsibilities in regards to incorporating new media into existing traditional literacies.

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In an informal survey of digital writing knowledge and practices, several teachers defined digital writing as any writing done on a device or using technology. Most shared that they utilize Google Docs and Slides for student production of writing, and some cited particular genres of writing students produce digitally such as newspaper articles, film reviews, short stories, and resumes. However, in terms of incorporating multimedia and design skills, very few teachers provided examples beyond layout and formatting in Google Slides.

Dan Waber, a multimedia artist and specialist in electronic literature, defines digital writing as “writing which, at minimum, would be diminished if it were presented in a non-digital format, and at best, which is effectively untranslatable out of the digital format.” It seems that not enough educators are teaching students how “to take advantage of the elements of media--words, images, sounds, videos, links--that contribute to the meaning in a digital text” (Hicks, p. 13). Design is closely connected with content, and we need to teach students how to use technology to enhance writing craft.

According to Turner & Hicks, “digital writing requires us to make intentional choices about what we want to say, as well as how we choose the media in which to say it” (p. 11). This kind of writing requires technical knowledge as well as deep understanding of audience, purpose, and context. Thus, teachers of writing must support students in “understanding the complexities of communicating in a twenty-first century world” (National Writing Project, p. 2). This begins with studying students’ digital and literacy practices outside of school and considering how we can incorporate similar elements of customization and interaction in the writing projects we assign.

Young people are engaged in a multipurpose, highly participatory “always on” relationship with digital media (Ito et al., 2008). Because focus has been shifted from individual expression to community involvement, “the new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking” (Jenkins et al., 2006). It is increasingly essential that we integrate the study of media-rich, interactive digital texts and writing into our curriculum, so our students become the kind of social content creators who will make a difference in the real world.

Performance Objectives

  • Participants will define digital writing and explain how it differs from traditional writing.
  • Participants will compare and contrast various digital writing genres in terms of their usefulness in the classroom and current curriculum.
  • Partipants will analyze digital mentor texts for craft and standards alignment.
  • Participants will design a writing unit/project for their students that incorporates digital writing/new media literacies.

Course Units

This mini-course includes the following units. Click the title of a unit to go to its page.

Unit 1: What is digital writing and why does it matter?

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In this unit, you will...

  • define digital writing.
  • differentiate between digital and traditional texts.
  • explain the relevance, purpose, and importance of digital writing for 21st century learners.
  • begin envisioning your final project.

Unit 2: How can I meet the standards through digital writing projects?

In this unit, you will...

  • identify digital writing genres that align with standards for narrative, information, and argument writing.
  • recognize how digital writing craft aligns with standards for multimedia, research, and presentation skills.
  • learn how digital writing projects foster 21st century skills such as collaboration, creativity, technology, and communication.
  • develop final project through consideration of standards alignment.

Unit 3: What forms of digital writing can I have my students create?

In this unit, you will...

  • examine techniques to transform traditional essays into multimedia products.
  • investigate ways for students to meet learning outcomes through the creation of websites.
  • identify the characteristics of a blog and determine how blogs can be used to enhance reading and writing skills.
  • explore the features of a wiki and brainstorm ways to use wikis in the classroom.

Unit 4: How can I teach author's craft through digital writing?

In this unit, you will...

  • investigate the use of media craft techniques in digital writing.
  • evaluate mentor texts based on the CWPA Habits of Mind and MAPS.
  • develop your final project by adding Habits of Mind and MAPS descriptors to your planning template.

References and Resources

DeVoss, D. N., Eidman-Aadahl, E., & Hicks, T. (2010). Because digital writing matters: Improving student writing in online and multimedia environments. John Wiley & Sons.

Hicks, T. (2013). Crafting digital writing: Composing texts across media and genres. Heinemann.

Turner, K. H., & Hicks, T. (2017). Argument in the real world: Teaching adolescents to read and write digital texts. Heinemann.